Nigeria

Nigeria: Basic services a challenge to Nigeria's new leaders

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LAGOS, 24 April 2007 (IRIN) - Despite huge oil revenues that go to the government, basic services such as a potable water supply, primary healthcare and electricity remain out of the reach for most people except the rich in Nigeria, and few believe this record is likely to change any time soon.

Poor access to these services has contributed to Nigeria being among the countries with the worst human development indicators in Africa, apart from those nations that were recently at war, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

"One of the big contradictions Nigeria has faced is the stark lack of access to basic social amenities for the vast majority of its people in contrast to the huge revenues that accrue to the government," said Laide Akinola, a programme officer with a local civic group, Social Rights Action. "It is a situation that is crying for remedy, Nigerians need a government that can show them some care."

Nigeria's new leader, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), was elected last Saturday in a vote that local and international observers criticised as unfair, disorganised and in many cases blatantly rigged, raising fears of a crisis of legitimacy that will undermine the government's ability to meet the needs of its citizens.

Analysts say Yar'Adua, if allowed to stand given the anticipated judicial challenges to his victory, has tremendous work ahead of him to improve the services the federal government is supposed to provide Nigeria's 140 million people.

Declining services

A joint UN children's agency (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2006 showed national good water coverage failed to improve across Nigeria and instead fell from 49 percent coverage in 1990 to 48 percent 14 years later. The report predicted that Nigeria was unlikely to meet millennium development goals since coverage of 65 percent was required by 2004 to meet the targets.

Both UNICEF and WHO see a close correlation between an inadequate supply of clean water and the rise in cases of water-borne diseases in many parts of the country, with cholera and typhoid among prominent killers.

"A majority of the patients that come to our clinic these days either have typhoid or stomach upsets, pointing to water-borne infection," said Angela Ezeobi, a doctor who runs a clinic in the Surulere district of Lagos.

The Lagos Water Corporation, in charge of water supply to the city of at least 10 million people, recently took out newspaper advertisements blaming a poor power supply by the state electricity company for a recent inability to pump water to millions of customers, leading to an acute scarcity.

Official statistics show that only 10 percent of rural dwellers and 40 percent of people in the cities have access to electricity in Nigeria. More than 60 percent depend on traditional medicine while there are only 18.5 doctors for every 100,000 people in the country.

Although the federal government is responsible for providing electricity to Nigerians, as well as a degree of water and health services, state and local governments are also required to meet the needs of their constituents. To this end, the government has taken serious steps to try to reduce corruption at the state and local level that bleeds their areas of development funds. Most of the country's governors are currently under investigation for graft.

Promises and discouragement

President Olusegun Obasanjo defends his eight-year record in providing basic services, citing a jump in spending for the provision of water alone from about US$63 million before he came to power in 1999 to $430 million in 2006. He promised during a campaign rally in Abuja that the foundation he has set will be built upon by Yar'Adua as president.

In the meantime, people like 35-year-old Lagos resident Riskat Muri continue to make due on their own, like many Nigerians, to get the services they need.

For drinking water Muri relies on vendors who push jerry cans on carts through the streets, although what she can afford falls far short of her family's needs. If someone in her family gets sick, she relies on herbs and roots that women sell in a market nearby, although she would prefer to go to a clinic if it weren't so expensive. And at home her baby often cries because of the humid heat but the electric fan doesn't work because of perpetual power shortages.

"We live in the city but we don't enjoy any of the services of a city," said Muri. "Our leaders just don't seem to care how we live."

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